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CSU switch to Canvas motivated by partnership with Unizin


Colorado State University made a switch from RamCT to Canvas after joining Unizin, a group of universities working toward bettering learning technologies.


Unizin is a collaboration of 10 major universities around the country with the goal of coming together to influence digital learning platforms, such as RamCT and Canvas, and making those platforms better for the universities, according to Vice President for Information Technology and Dean of Libraries Patrick Burns.

CSU switched over to Canvas when it joined Unizin because Canvas is a component of Unizin, and it is what the other universities in Unizin use, Burns said.

“We should be able to exercise more influence over the vendors to get the digital learning ecosystem to go in better directions for us, rather than just accept what’s delivered to us year-by-year by Blackboard and other companies,” Burns said. “Our objective is improving learning. Their objective is maximizing profits.”

Burns said Blackboard did not always respond to feedback from the University. He said his hope with Unizin and Canvas is to be able to influence the program more to make it work better for student and faculty needs.

Burns said going to Instructure, the company that owns Canvas, with 10 other major universities gave CSU more power and influence than if it tried to go to Canvas and ask for improvements alone.

“[Instructure] said ‘you guys are at the forefront of learning,’” Burns said. “’We want you to advise us to help us change Canvas so we can together improve learning.’”

CSU is currently using the commercial version of Canvas because Canvas is not public yet. CSU could switch to the open source version in the future to save money, Associate Provost for Instructional Innovation Mike Palmquist said. If CSU decides to switch to the open source version, Canvas would still allow CSU to use certain tools that are not normally offered in that version.

“We’re getting a really good deal on a leading software program for learning management systems,” Palmquist said.

Palmquist said Canvas offers many tools RamCT did not, such as embedding video and bringing in blogs and online textbooks. Canvas is also a simpler interface and is easier for faculty to use.


Palmquist said a challenge is converting courses from RamCT.

“A lot of our courses developed through TILT are quite complicated and they have a lot of content,” Palmquist said. “So we have to make sure that all works out.”

Pete Seel, a professor in the journalism department, piloted Canvas in two of his courses last semester.

“Canvas, for me, is a much easier system to use,” Seel said. “It’s a simpler interface for students as well … it is easier [for them] to see what their grades are.”

Seel said Canvas does everything he used in RamCT, but on a more intuitive system. From an instructor perspective, he likes how Canvas creates a spot in the grade book section every time he creates an assignment.

CSU plans to be completely converted to Canvas by fall 2016, Palmquist said. By then, there should be more advanced learning tools integrated into the program, such as free online textbooks.

“We should be integrating open educational resources [such as] textbooks and things like that into it, which will reduce costs for students,” Palmquist said. “There are a number of textbooks that are solid out there that are available for particular disciplines, and some faculty will be able to integrate those in.”

Collegian City Beat Reporter Sady Swanson can be reached at or on Twitter at @sadyswan.

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